Taking care of employees is crucial for attracting and retaining top-tier talent. A progressive company culture, competitive salaries, and traditional benefits will always be a strong foundation for a...
Change is amongst us. A new way of thinking is emerging. A new dialogue for employee wellness has begun, and it all starts with Generation Z.
It is the era of Gen Z. This demographic consists of those born between 1997-2012 and currently makes up about 1/4 of the U.S. population. Unlike generations before, this group has been influenced by the 2008 financial crisis, emerging pandemics, and nationwide lockdowns.
Unsurprisingly, this has caused a new set of generational issues. Ironically, this group is least likely to contract COVID-19 but has been the most psychologically distraught by the pandemic. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, “Gen Z adults (46%) were the most likely generation to say that their mental health has worsened compared with before the pandemic.”
As a Gen Zer who has just entered the workforce to intern with SWBC’s Employee Benefits Consulting Group, I’d like to share my perspective about how my generation is redefining workplace wellness.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Gen Z’s Mental Health
Each one of us has lost something to COVID-19. For the younger Gen Zers, that meant cutting contact with friends at school and adjusting to education via Zoom.
Older Gen Zers, like myself, were forced to end high school or college careers with no closure and with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. What will life look like now? Can I even find a job in a pandemic? How will I take care of my mental health?
As we know now, no one had any answers. Fear. Loss. Isolation. The perfect storm. I had just graduated high school, or in this reality, walked across the stage with a mask on, six feet apart from my classmates looking forward to my future.
I was attending a university in the next couple of months, and I was so excited to finally leave to get that desired “college experience.” However, what they failed to mention was you cannot really meet people when your classes are virtual, you are alone most days, and the education you worked so hard for (shockingly) is not the same when it is being taught by a computer.
For Gen Z, most of us experienced something like this. Living in a disassociated world (quite literally) strained our social interactions and lead to a decline in mental health. All generations have struggled through the recent crisis and today one in five U.S. adults live with a mental health condition.
In recent years, social media has led to a rise in mental health awareness. Generation Z and their Millennial predecessors led the world to emphasize the need for change, to strip the stigma of mental health conditions, and illuminate the fact that many are suffering silently around us.
Gen Z’s Response
Having to tackle our young adult years during an earth-shattering pandemic was not only scary, but extremely eye-opening. Now we truly understand that our daily life and wellness should never be taken for granted.
In response to pandemic-related disruptions, Gen Z has readily adopted a new approach to accessing healthcare by utilizing telehealth options.
According to the American Hospital Association, “More than 70% of younger generations (Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X) said they prefer telehealth because of convenience. Gen Z and Millennials are resisting a return to in-person care, with 44% saying they may switch providers if telehealth visits aren’t offered going forward. Meanwhile, only a quarter of baby boomer patients prefer telehealth to in-person care.”
Redefining The Future of Mental Healthcare in the Workplace
Looking forward, we are seeing a shift in the wellness industry. Gen Z is rapidly changing the health norms by shifting the focus from “normal” medical care to a more holistic approach. The goal now is to take control of our whole health by caring for our hearts, minds, and bodies.
Even more so in the workplace, employees are now demanding a culture of health at work and employers are making it a priority to implement wellness initiatives.
As an employer, it is vital to be sympathetic toward stressors of life and to provide resources to guide your employees to better health outcomes.
Campaigning for employee wellness not only differentiates companies, it also encourages the employees to live a healthy life, most notably at work too. By focusing on disease management programs, offering flexible work schedules, and supporting mental wellness, you can help all of your employees, Gen Z especially, feel valued and cared for. This will be particularly important in the coming years because by 2030, this population will make up 30% of the workforce.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.”
Placing wellness programs within your organization can provide access to resources that could help your employees with their mental struggles and cultivate a positive environment. The time is now. The time to recognize that our well-being matters; we matter. Gen Z has only started the change and we should all continue it.
Establishing Mental Health at Work from a Gen Z Point of View
Like most things in life, it is easy to talk about change, it is another to implement it. The ongoing question from this COVID-19 era is how can a company establish legitimate mental health support for employees?
Fortunately, there are so many answers. Establishing an employee assistance program (EAP) is a start. This support typically comes in the form of counseling, educational presentations on mental health, and outreach. Having an EAP program in place emphasizes to employees, Gen Z specifically, that their company supports any struggles one might be dealing with.
It’s also a smart investment for your company. According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 spent on treating common mental health concerns, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
Mental health matters. Perhaps more than any other generation, Gen Z is aware that the world is constantly evolving and it can be difficult to navigate near-constant health crises, political unrest, rising movements, and recessions all while prioritizing mental health. Simply put, life can be hard. However, it is easy to put programs to support your employees through some of life’s challenges.
Across generations, we all deserve to live our fullest lives, starting with mental health.
McKenzie Duke is the intern for SWBC's Employee Benefits Consulting Group. She assists in building relationships with community partners, researching the latest trends in employee wellness, and collecting data to support workplace wellness for our clients.